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What is Ear Wax?

Ear wax is a natural substance produced in your ear canal. It is also called cerumen. The ear wax is composed of a mixture of skin cell debris and secretions from sebaceous glands situated in the external auditory canal (outer ear). Ear wax coats, protects, and lubricates the ear canal.

What is the Function of the Ear Wax?

The ear canal is lined with hair follicles. These hair follicles have ceruminous and sebaceous glands that secrete wax to prevent foreign bodies from entering inside the ear canal and causing damage to the ear drum. Ear wax also acts as a barrier that prevents water from entering into the ear canal and thereby causing imbalance in the tympanic membrane pressure in the middle ear.

What are the Causes for Ear Wax Blockage?

Normally, the wax dries up and, along with any trapped dust or debris, will move to the opening of the ear and will fall out or be washed away. In some people the ceruminous glands produce more wax than necessary. The excess wax may harden in the ear canal causing a blockage of the canal. In other cases, when you try to clean the ear using cotton swab or other accessories, you may instead push wax deeper which can block the ear canal.

What are Symptoms of Ear Wax Blockage?

Ear wax blocking in the ear canal can cause the following symptoms:

  • Ear ache
  • Ringing sensation in the ear(tinnitus)
  • Itching in the ear
  • Partial hearing loss
  • Echoing sensation
  • Ear infection
  • Dizziness(vertigo)
  • Odour from the ear
  • Yellowish or brownish debris lodged in the ear canal

What are the Complications of Ear Wax deposition in the Ear Canal?

The complications of the Ear wax deposition or blockage in the ear canal includes:

  • Ear drum perforation or Tympanic membrane rupture
  • Middle ear infection, which is known as otitis media
  • External ear infection (Swimmer’s ears)
  • Permanent hearing loss

How is Ear Wax Blockage Diagnosed?

When you experience symptoms of ear wax blockage, you should visit an ENT specialist. Discuss your complaints with your provider and then your doctor will do a visual inspection of your ears using an otoscope (microscopic instrument with a light source) to rule out the presence of ear wax deposition.

Treatment for Ear Wax Blockage

Earwax blockage can be removed several ways which include:

  • Clean outside of your ear by wiping with a clean cotton cloth. Just move the cloth around the outer ear only. Do not put anything into the ear canal.
  • Use cerumen lytic solutions (formulated solutions to dissolve ear wax) such as mineral oil, baby oil, glycerin, peroxide-based ear drops, or saline solution. Put a few drops of solution into the ear canal and lie on the opposite side to allow the solution to enter the canal and dissolve the ear wax. You can also soak a cotton ball and put it over the affected ear and let the solution drip into the ear.
  • Irrigating the ear canal wherein you use a syringe to rinse out the ear canal with water or saline solution can also be helpful. This should be done after the wax has softened or dissolved by a cerumen lytic solution.

If your ear wax is not completely cleared then you may have to visit your healthcare provider or an ENT specialist for manual wax removal using special instruments. Your provider may use instruments such as a cerumen spoon, forceps, or suction device to remove the ear wax.

Prevention of Ear Wax Blockage

Preventive measures to avoid ear wax blockage includes:

  • Do not put anything into your ear canals to clean them as this can stimulate the production of excess cerumen.
  • Use cotton swabs or cloth only for wiping the outside of the ear
  • Consult your healthcare provider for suggestions to stop earwax from building up if you have to get ear wax removed more than once a year.

Alexandria Medical Associates

Primary care

6355 Walker Lane,
Suite 303,
Alexandria, VA 22310

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Office Hours : Monday to Friday 8:00 am to 4:00 pm

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